Mining in Utopia? White Mineworkers on Zambia’s Copperbelt

Mo, 20.3.2023, 18.00, University of Vienna: Lecture by Duncan Money

Mo, 20.3.2023, 18.00, University of Vienna

Organized by the research platform "Transformations and Eastern Europe"


“Paradise for the proletariat” was the awe-struck assessment of one visitor to the mines in Central Africa in the 1950s. Miners drove Jaguar cars, sailed yachts, swam in Olympic-sized swimming pools, played polo and some even owned planes.

Was paradise on earth really achieved? And how was it achieved? This talk looks into the lives of some of – if the not the – most affluent workers on the planet: the white mineworkers who came to the copper mines in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) from the 1920s. For forty years, this group kept a tight grip on the mines that produced a large chunk of the world’s copper supply, and fought to get an ever-greater share of the proceeds.

Events on Zambia’s Copperbelt reveal sharply how race and class intersected. The affluence of white mineworkers was secured by bitter strikes against the mining companies, and by repeatedly blocking African workers from being employed in skilled jobs. Combining industrial militancy with racial segregation proved to be lucrative.

White mineworkers formed a racialised working class, a white working class, and one that was extraordinarily mobile. They constituted a highly mobile workforce that moved frequently between mines across the world, and this global work experience and connections played a crucial role in shaping race and class on the Copperbelt. They were an unpleasant bunch, but they were important.

‘White working class’ has been a popular term since the mid-2010s as a way of explaining the supposed drivers of political events in Europe and North America. Looking at the history of an actual ‘white working class’ shows how the contemporary use of the term is meaningless.

Duncan Money is a freelance historian and has written extensively on histories of work, migration, race and mining. He was awarded his PhD in history from the University of Oxford in 2016 and in 2022 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. His first book White Mineworkers on Zambia's Copperbelt: In a Class of Their Own was published by Brill in 2021 and his most recent publication Born with a Copper Spoon: A Global History of Copper came out in 2022. Alongside his research, Duncan is involved in digitisation projects and worked with the Mineworkers’ Union of Zambia to preserve their archive.

Further information: Personal website



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